Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY, Chapter 4


Chapter 4: The Ascent


Pleasure or pain can fill us up so full                                                             
            they dominate all ways we think and act,
            a fact disproving Plato’s rule that souls                                             3

are triple – vegetable, animal
            and logical. Words can so occupy
            our soul, we do not notice passing time.                                            6

Manfred’s speech so pleased me I did not see
            the sun rise to its fiftieth degree.
            Mid-morning passed before our company                                         9

aroused me, crying, “Here’s the place you need!”
            I saw in the cliff face a gap as wide
            as in a vineyard hedge that peasants block                                         12

with a forkful of thorn, yet wide enough
            to admit a man into a deep crack       
            sloping steeply up. My guide, stepping in,                                       15

started climbing on all fours, rock beneath,
            beside and above his back. I followed,
            bidding the slowly moving flock goodbye.                                         18

You may rush down Noli, up San Leo,
            mount Bismantova’s summit on your feet.
            Wings of desire raised me on hands and knees,                                  21

scrambling after Virgil and not stop
            until we reached the precipice’s top
            and stood upon the edge of a broad ledge                                           24

of that bare mountainside. “Master,” said I,
            “where now?” “Upward,” said he, “and do not halt
            before you meet a wiser guide than me.”                                            27

He turned to lead me up a steeper slope
than we had tackled in the creviced rock.
Exhausted I cried, “Pause kind father, please!                          30

You’re leaving me behind – I need to rest!”
            “My son,” said he, pointing not far ahead,
            “drag yourself first up there.” I forced my feet                                  33 

to follow him up to a level ground,
a terrace curving round the mighty hill,
            and sat facing the way we came (often                                               36

the finest view) due east. First I gazed down,
            feasting eyes on the sea below, then raised
            them to the skies, amazed to see the sun                                            39

shining upon my left. “How can this be?”
            I said. “This island mountain,” he replied
            “Is central to the southern hemisphere,                                              42

just as the land where Christ was crucified
            is central to the north. Half way between
            lies the equator. When the setting sun                                                45

crossed that, it left the north in night and brought
            light here, to the western point, which is not
            on your right, but upon your other hand.                                           48

Do you understand?” I did, then I said
            “Have we much more to climb? The height ahead
            is out of sight.” He said, “The hardest part                                        51

of leaving sin is always at the start.
The climb is easier as you go up.
Near the top you will feel climbing is like                               54

floating downstream in a boat.” A voice said,
            “You’ll often sit down again before then.”
            We turned and saw a big rock in whose shade                                    57

sprawled people looking totally fatigued.
            The speaker hugged his knees, head sunk between.
            I told my guide, “That is Belacqua, sir –                                            60

a Florentine well-known for being slow.”
            Belacqua raised an eye above his thigh
            and grunted, “Up you go, busybody,                                                 63

now you know why the sun shines on your left.”
            Smiling a bit at that I said to him,
            “Friend, you will be alright – you need not grieve,                            66

but why sit here? What are you waiting for?
            Have you not shaken off your laziness?”
            “Brother,” he groaned, “I cannot go up yet,                                       69 

I died too soon to properly confess
            on my deathbed my life of slothful sin.
            The Bird of God who guards a higher gate                                         72

will not admit me to the cleansing pain
            until I’ve waited all the years before
            I gave my soul to God. I must squat here                                           75

sixty years more, if a pure soul’s prayers
            do not lessen them. How I envy you!”
            Virgil had climbed ahead and called to me,                                          78

“Time to go on!” I left Belacqua there.   
           


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